Ed Walker’s Starman is poised to take his place at the top of the sprint division when he lines up for the Darley July Cup.
The four-year-old is vying for favouritism in the Group One contest over six furlongs on Newmarket’s July course this Saturday.
Starman was last seen triumphing in the Duke of York Stakes at York, beating Naharr, Oxted and Summerghand in the process.
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The performance was the bay’s first of 2021 and Walker was pleasantly surprised to see him strike first time out after a 207-day break.
“I was treating it as a prep race, I expected him to need the run and in a way was happy to get beaten as Ascot was the be all and end all,” he said.
“When he won like that and battled like he did, he certainly looked like he was going to tighten up and improve for the run.
“I’m not going to say he’ll be a stone better after York, but I’d like to say he’ll be better for that run.”
Roger Teal’s Oxted went on to take the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, a victory that further boosts the form of Starman’s York success.
“His form is solid, very solid, Oxted’s taken a bit of time to warm up this year, the Teals were a bit disappointed and now they’re rightly full of optimism again,” he said.
“He’s a very good horse, a two-time Group One winner, and just because we’ve beaten him doesn’t mean I don’t see him as a threat.”
Starman was an intended runner in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, but a downpour over Ascot turned the going unfavourably soft and Walker was forced to withdraw him.
The weather left conditions at the Berkshire track similar to Champions Day last season, where the horse was beaten for the first and only time when finishing 14th of 19 rivals on soft ground in the British Champions Sprint Stakes.
“It was an easy decision, but brutal to have to make it. But he’s only been beaten once and that was on that track and in those conditions,” said Walker.
“It just felt like it would have been a brilliant mistake to make when all the horses that beat him on Champions Day were in there.
“I would have felt so stupid, any time you send any horse out into battle you risk injuries or disappointment and I just would have felt really stupid if he’d have been beaten six lengths again and only beaten two rivals and I had run him not liking the ground.”
Newmarket conditions are likely to be far less extreme, with the going at the July course currently described as good to firm and showers expected.
“It looks like it should just be nice ground,” Walker said.
“Worst case (scenario) good ground, probably a bit quicker than that if the rain doesn’t come, so there’s no excuses – may the best horse win.”
This weekend’s contest looks to be hugely competitive, with Starman and Oxted joined at the head of the market by Dragon Symbol – who was first past the post in a dramatic renewal of the Commonwealth Cup – and Jersey Stakes winner Creative Force, though Diamond Jubilee champion Dream Of Dreams is notably absent due to injury.
“It feels like a real championship race, you have all the best horses of the generation in there, but it’s a shame not to have the Diamond Jubilee winner there alongside the King’s Stand winner,” Walker said.
“Starman has got an opportunity to be the sprinter of his generation because he’s only got the one blip on his record, I’d love to think he could be the next Muhaarar.
“He’s done absolutely nothing wrong bar that run on bad ground, I just don’t know how much is up his sleeve – only he can answer that question and hopefully he does answer it on Saturday.”
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